If you think August is the hottest month of the year, we have some news for you: It's actually February. How is that possible you say? Four words: Sports. Illustrated. Swimsuit. Issue.
The SI swimsuit issue always turns up the heat with its seriously gorgeous modeling veterans — Chrissy Teigen, Kate Upton, and Ashley Graham, to name a few — but the magazine also likes to feature up-and-comers, often turning rookies into household names.
We talked to five of this year's newbies — Kelly Gale, Myla Dalbesio, Danielle Herrington, Bianca Balti, and Mia Kang — to see exactly what they did to prepare for the shoot (and vie for the fan-awarded title of Rookie of the Year).
Shockingly, their diet plans aren't as strict as you'd expect.
When you think of models eating, you probably think of them scrutinizing every ounce of food for its sodium, sugar, and fat content, but the rookies swear they're actually not obsessing over every extra calorie.
"I don't really think about calories," Dalbesio says. "For a long time, I had body image issues and was calorie-counting constantly, and that's a horrible way to live life."
Kang agrees: "I eat what I want, I love food, and really, life is too short."
None of the models follow a strictly low-carb diet, low-calorie diet, or any other sort of restrictive eating plan, they say. They just try to eat clean, healthy foods. And much like the rest of us, they shudder at the thought of having something completely banned from their diets.
"As soon as I hear that I can't have something, that becomes all I can think of," Gale says.
You definitely won't catch them following fad diets.
Juice cleanse? No, thank you. Herrington says she once gave the lemonade diet (a juice cleans that involves drinking a concoction made of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup) a try, and she "absolutely hated it." Dalbesio agrees that she's "not one of those people who is going to go on a juice cleanse because [she has] a big shoot."
Instead, the rookies all advocate for creating healthy eating habits rather than resorting to some popular path to weight loss. Balti, for example, doesn't believe in diets at all.
"It's all about portion control," she says.
The key is consistency (and lots of veggies and protein).
If there's one thing all of the rookies can agree on, it's that constantly eating healthy is the only way to keep looking good.
Breakfasts consist of avocado and turkey sandwiches for Balti, omelettes with veggies for Herrington, granola with yogurt, berries, and honey for Kang, breakfast smoothies for Gale (she makes one with bananas, raw cacao, raspberries, and salt, which she says is "literally the best thing on the planet"), and paleo banana bread for Dalbesio.
Lunch tends to be more veggie-centric for all of the models:
- Herrington opts for large salads, skipping dressing in favor of apple cider vinegar.
- Gale goes with shrimp or turkey with roasted veggies, drizzling them with lemon and balsamic vinegar for an extra kick.
- Dalbesio enjoys turkey chili and soups when it's cold outside, including a homemade Mexican soup that has a ton of good 'n' healthy stuff in it.
Dinner is a free-for-all, and the models say it can include anything from pasta with tomato sauce (because even Balti can't resist the power of pasta) to a more healthy baked salmon with broccoli (Herrington's favorite). Kang is also a huge fan of zucchini noodles, which she prepares with a little pesto and tofu.
There's no magic trick to shedding pounds fast.
Plenty of celebs have cited special tricks to drop a couple pounds right before a big movie or photo shoot, but the SI rookies insist their process is pretty straightforward.
"Cut sugars, alcohol — anything processed," Gale says.
Although some stars might skip liquids a few hours before a shoot, the rookies advocated for the opposite, with many saying that constantly drinking water was key for them.
"Drink water and keep eating to keep your metabolic rate up, but just eat the right things," Kang says. "It's important to still give your body the calories it needs to function optimally."
Being that good lookin' involves lots of home cookin'.
Choosing a simple salad over some good, ol'fashioned comfort food can take major willpower. That's why these ladies often prefer to stay in and cook for themselves, so they can have full control over what they're eating and how it's being prepared.
"I almost always cook my own meals and try to have friends over for dinner, so I can cook for them also," says Gale, who often equates staying in with staying healthy.
Dalbesio is also a fan of whipping up her own meals.
"I travel so much it's meditative. It's almost like therapy to come home and be able to spend time in my kitchen and just cook and watch terrible television," she says.
Healthy snacks are a must.
While preparing for the shoot, the rookies can't just grab something from the nearest vending machine, so they always make sure they have healthy snacks on hand. Balti is a fan of chia pudding, and Herrington opts for edamame. Meanwhile, Gale always keeps stock of her very specific favorite snack, North Shore Goodies Original Coconut Peanut Butter.
Kang keeps it simple with raw unsalted nuts, on the other hand, and Dalbesio gets a little more creative with her snack.
"I make a nut mix of my own, because I just feel like the ones I buy at the store are never exactly what you want," she says.
Her mix includes bits and pieces of leftover nuts and fruits that she's used for other recipes, such as roasted almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cranberries, and white mulberries all mixed up in a "humongous mason jar."
But chocolate isn't out of the question.
Like all humans, the models do have their weaknesses. In the words of Balti, and literally any other human in the world, "Chocolate is hard to say no to." She's a big fun of Reese's, Nutella, and Snickers, and she's not alone.
"I get those days when it's my time of the month, where I feel like life will be over unless I eat all the chocolate in the world," Kang says.
Gale's another chocoholic, though she prefers raw or vegan chocolate.
"If you haven't tried it yet, you have to go on Amazon right this second and order some," she says. "I can't even begin to describe how good it is. But prepare to get addicted."
Consider yourself warned.
Neither is junk food.
Although the rookies try to stay healthy most of the time, they say having one day during the week (generally on the weekend) when they can eat whatever they want — or at least one meal every now and then — is an important treat.
So what are the ladies eating on their day off? Apparently, lots of In-N-Out and chips. Herrington, Balti, and Dalbesio all mentioned being big fans of the West Coast fast food chain. Herrington even has a very precise meal she likes to get: "a No. 3 with no tomatoes, extra onions, animal-style fries, and a Dr. Pepper."
Chips are another favorite cheat food.
"Anyone that knows me knows I could happily replace all meals with bags of chips," Kang says.
They travel with more food than clothes.
The ladies agree that jetsetting between shoots makes it hard to stay healthy, because airport terminals are generally lacking in the healthy food options. So in order to stay fit, they often travel with their own healthy meals. Herrington packs bags of chopped veggies with tuna or chicken, and Dalbesio often packs full salads.
"Literally my suitcase is always at least 50 percent food, and out of the other 50 percent, at least two-thirds is workout gear and equipment for working out," Gale says.
The shoot was actually a time to indulge.
"When you're traveling somewhere new, one of the best ways to experience a culture is trying all of the food," Balti says.
So when the ladies traveled for the swimsuit shoot, they definitely indulged in the local cuisine. Dalbesio says the models went on group dinners to some amazing restaurants and got to dine on razor clams and oysters (at a place called Fishalicious, no less).
Sports Illustrated took food requests during the shoot, so the models were well-stocked and able to keep their energy up (green juice and tropical fruit topped Gale's list of requests). It wasn't all lean, healthy foods, though.
"Every day I was there, I got French fries as an appetizer," Herrington says, adding that the rest of the meal was pretty light.
Home is where their workout is.
Aside from making sure they don't overdo it on the fries, the rookies stay in shape by working out pretty constantly (most of them work out four to six times a week), but you'd be surprised to know that their gym is generally in their living room: Herrington is the only rookie to work with a trainer; the rest of the models generally stay fit by using free weights, following workout videos, or going for a jog.
To keep it interesting, they often mix up their workouts. Kang for example, is trained in Muay Thai (a combat sport), and Gale newly discovered stand-up paddleboarding. They also work in small ways to stay active throughout the day.
The advice sounds simple, but it turns out it just might land you a spot in Sports Illustrated's pages. After all, it worked for these rookies.